August 30, 1991
There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjectures out of such trifling investment of fact.
The art of mystification is as old as language itself. I can see a cave man pointing at a mammoth and saying "oogloo". His fellows are amazed that he knows the name of that woolly gigantic beast, while no other member of the clan does. The man who named the animal became the leader because he knew more than anyone else. Of course, when he led his clan over the edge of a cliff, they realized, too late, that he really didn't know anything at all; he had just invented a word.
The art of convincing people that you know more than they do, even though you are just as ignorant, has been developed into a fine art by the clergy, politicians, teachers and some very popular scientists.
The story of The Emperor's New Clothes tells about how a group of tailors mystified an emperor into believing that they had woven a suit of clothes that was so fine that it couldn't be seen. A child, who had not yet been trained to accept mystifications, points out that the emperor is naked. The story ends there. The author doesn't tell you what happened to the child. Odds are that he went to bed without supper and was forced to repeat over and over again "the emperor knows everything and I know nothing". That is the way of the world. I could have tried to mystified you by saying it in Latin: Sic transit something or other.
If you didn't know the meaning of the word "mystification", you know now. There isn't a human being who hasn't been exposed to the process in school, church, TV and every means of communication. Its purpose is to give one person power over another through the use of words.
One big difference between real power, which enables a person to really do things, and mystification is that the mystification requires your cooperation. You have to buy it. The charm can be broken with a single word: baloney!!! or words of a similar kind --some being unprintable in a family newspaper.
What got me off on this was starting to read Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time ( I didn't finish it). He starts off by saying that he is going to explain the nature of the universe and how it began. A statement like that tells me immediately that the author is prepared to mystify the reader. If he was going to just give me information, he would explain to me what SOME physicists and cosmologists BELIEVE about the universe and why they BELIEVE it.
Despite the grandiose pronouncements of cosmologists, I happen to know that they really know very little. We are just beginning to really learn about our own solar system. Our knowledge about our own galaxy is rudimentary --and here is someone who is going to explain the universe??? I'm not that gullible. He then proceeds to confuse observations with conclusions and theories with facts. In short, it is a very skillful, well written, snow job. I am supposed to believe it because everybody who is anybody tells me that this man is a great genius.
Well, he may be a great genius, but he can no more know what is presently unknowable, than he can walk on water. He can make guesses, as people have in the past, but that is all that they are: educated guesses. And like the educated guesses of the past, most will eventually be shown to be wrong.
Unlike the disciples of science, neither Newton nor Einstein tried to mystify people. They presented their theories as a new way of looking at the world and universe. Newton was correct enough to make space exploration possible; with a lot of help from the people who came after him. Much of what Einstein postulated seems to be true. Some may or may not be true. That is how science progresses. It is not helped by those who say that we now know what the universe is all about.
The mystifiers have been invariably wrong in the past; they are wrong now; and they will be wrong in the future. In the name of "education" they impede progress by telling people that things are known, while the truth is that we have barely scratched the surface of what still remains to be discovered and understood.
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